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History of Gnosticism

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0631187073
ISBN-10: 0631187073
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Editorial Reviews


"The best account of Gnosticism to have been written. An extraordinary and enlightening accomplishment." Times Literary Supplement

"Comprehensive, judicious and informed. Filoramo, with his light wit and his lucid style, is a historian of integrity and a thinker: these are the indispensable criteria for a study of Gnosticism, and they are all too seldom met." M. J. Edwards, New College, Oxford

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Italian

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (January 18, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631187073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631187073
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,543,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A wealth of insights. Filoramo seems to have the best understanding of what the ancient Gnostics were about as anyone I've read. Arguably surpassing

* Hans Jonas The Gnostic Religion
* Simone Petremont A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism

Jonas is excellent for understanding the Gnostics from the modern viewpoint of existentialism (be sure to get an edition of Jonas, e.g. the 2nd, that includes the Epilogue: "Gnosticsm, Nihilism and Existentialism") and Petrement may be most intriquing for her agressive speculations to uncover the development of Christian Gnosticism from issues raised by the Pauline and Johanine communities. But for understanding the Gnostics on their own terms and without undue speculation, I haven't found the likes of Filoramo.

"A History of Gnosticism" is not just history but also sociology, mythology and psychology in a powerful mix. If I thought before that Gnosticism spoke to my condition, that it was more than "DaVinci Code" fad, Filoramo has strongly confirmed its power to me.

Filoramo presents Gnosticism as arising at a time in which people had a new and growing self-awareness, times of great change in which inner conflicts were also becoming great. Such conflicts didn't lend themselves to easy definition: it took a new burst of mythologies to express them. Evils seem hard to dismiss, the body itself seemed demonized. At a time when conditions seemed overwhelming, the desire for a savior became more urgent.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the most enshrouded mysteries from the early Christian era centers around the historical origin and disappearance of gnosticism. Giovanni Filoramo, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Turin, has produced _A_History_of_Gnosticism_, originally published in Italian as _L'attesa_della_fine,_Storia_della_gnosi_. In this brief volume, Filoramo examines the fragmentary history of gnosticism and its adherents. Gnosticism began as an anticosmic and nihilistic vision expounded upon by recent scholars including Carl Jung and Hans Jonas. As the first and most dangerous heresy to the church, this philosophy was condemned by the established theologians during the first four centuries, and has remained obscure ever since.
Much of what we know today about gnosticism stems from the Nag Hammadi library--a collection of manuscripts discovered in 1945 at Gibel el-Tarif. Polemic writings denouncing the cult also provide illumination. Filoramo illustrates the attempts by church apologists to trace gnosticism to Simon Magnus (see Acts 8:9-24) through a succession of schools, most importantly the Valentinians. The background of gnosticism is one of a cult born into a religious world in ferment where oriental theology had been flowing for centuries to the rather anemic religious culture of the northern Mediterranean.
The debate between _mythos_ (myth) and _logos_ (reason), settled supposedly in fifth century BC Athens (in favor of the latter), raged in the first Christian century. Mythos, originally intended to defend traditionalist religious heritage from attack by rationalists, transforms to a new identity over time. In the case of gnosticism, its development led to a philosophy dismissing the physical world as a manifestation of an ignorant and arrogant Demiurge.
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Format: Hardcover
This book by Filoramo is fairly short, weighing in at 269 pages, (189 pages excluding notes, index and so on). In that short text, Filoramo manages to pack a huge amount of information and give the reader enough to think about for a long time.

While the book describes the main and central ideas of Gnosticism, it gives a large amount of detail on each one. I honestly found some it hard to get my head around, and that is something I need to mention. I honestly feel that Jonas' and Rudolph's introductions, ("The Gnostic Religion" and "Gnosis" respectively), are easier for someone just looking for something to start with.

However, the main positive side of this book, in my opinion, is that Filoramo devotes a lot of time connecting Gnosticism to the wider religious and social environment that it found itself in. He also devotes a significant amount of time dealing with those traditions that feed into Gnosticism. Should you be seeking to understand Gnosticism as a part of a wider context, this book does that admirably well. Filoramo seems to present Gnosticism, not as a surprising aberration, but as an understandable result of earlier religious and cultural ideas. In this, Filoramo has written a fine book that does not waste time in unnecessary words and rubbish.

He also discusses briefly the history of scholarship in Gnosticism, which is fairly useful for putting his own book in a wider context.

Another positive is the sheer amount of endnotes that Filoramo provides. For anyone who wishes to follow up on particular areas of his book, he has provided a large number of references for you to check. Also, he has provided a large bibliography for further reading, should you be interested.
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